LeRoy Smith thought he had hit rock bottom when he found himself trolling Atlanta's gay district, looking to exchange sex acts for a hot hit off a crack pipe. Then he wound up on a Florida farm near the small town of Hastings, being bilked blind, he says, by a man with a fifth-grade education, sweating all day for a few dirty dollars, with no way to escape from the middle-of-nowhere camp.
He did not think slavery existed in modern America. He knows better now.
The recruiters had found LeRoy Smith playing chess in a park in Jacksonville on May 1, 2010. They pegged him for a black man with a back strong enough for farm work and an addiction strong enough to stick around and work for nothing. He was hooked on crack, but he had enough sense to recognize peonage when he saw it, and to slip away by night to safety.
And now he's talking. He filed a lawsuit last month in federal court against the man he says enslaved him. And he's talking to the Tampa Bay Times in hopes that publicity will cleanse Florida of indentured servitude.
The man he accuses says it's all a lie. Confronted with the allegations, Ronald Uzzle dismissed them and told a reporter to get off his property.
There's something going on in this small town and it might be hard to care because the victims are often homeless black men who live mostly in the shadows. Many have criminal records and sins in their past.
But many served in the armed forces and lived good lives before they dropped out of society and wound up in bondage.
Authorities have failed to stop a form of slavery that begins with indebtedness and sometimes doesn't end until a worker is dead.
And it continues today.